Victorian councillors condemn federal cuts to asylum seeker payments | Australia news


Mayors and councillors from 17 Victorian councils have called on the federal government to reverse its cuts to support payments for asylum seekers here on bridging visas.

At a meeting in Dandenong on Tuesday councillors drafted a joint resolution condemning the cuts, which charity groups say will potentially force thousands into destitution.

Last year the federal government announced an end to status resolution support services (SRSS) for several thousand asylum seekers on bridging visas, which began taking effect last month.

The SRSS provides payment roughly equivalent to 89% of Newstart – about $35 a day – as well as case management support and access to trauma and torture counselling services.

“Over 4,000 children nationally could be affected by the changes and we call upon the Australian government to adhere to its national and international obligations in accordance with the charter of human rights,” the draft statement said.

“We want the Australian government to reverse the recent assessment changes to the status resolution support services (SRSS) program and provide adequate income and case management support for people seeking asylum while they seek sustainable employment.”

The statement must now be endorsed by the individual councils, which is expected to take some weeks, before being delivered to the federal government.

The councils called for greater resources from the commonwealth to assist community services and volunteer organisations helping asylum seekers, and to provide emergency relief and material aid support until asylum seekers are either given a visa or deported.

The mayoral taskforce was formed to “to take the ideas for joint advocacy and material aid collaboration generated in the workshops forward” and comprised the mayors of Greater Dandenong, Brimbank, Darebin, Moreland and Yarra councils.

The cuts remove the financial and housing support previously provided to asylum seekers – including families with young children and the elderly – and threaten to force people into destitution, according to charity groups.

The attending mayors, councillors, and council officers – who were largely Labor, Greens, and independents – also workshopped advocacy strategies, and heard from representatives of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Refugee Council of Australia.

A Greens councillor for Greater Dandenong, Matthew Kirwan, said the group was a range of councils, from those with high proportions of asylum seekers in their communities, to those with none but whose residents were concerned about the impact of the cuts.

“Greater Dandenong has the highest in Australia of any LGA,” he said. “We have about 2,000 people seeking asylum in the Dandenong community but all across Australia there are 13,000, with 7,000 in Victoria.”

The SRSS cuts are one of two similar government actions against asylum seekers in Australia on bridging visas. Separately, almost 200 people who were transferred to the country from the Manus or Nauru detention centres for medical treatment were told earlier this year they would no longer receive supported accommodation or support payments. They were moved onto six-month bridging visas and told to support themselves.

Many asylum seekers who have been receiving government support find working difficult because of mental and physical health issues or because they are carers of young children.

Those who do wish to work have reported difficulty finding a job because of their lack of Australian experience or references, because of language barriers, or because employers are less inclined to hire someone on a six-month visa.

“We are all very concerned for the welfare of people seeking asylum and the impact these changes will have, not only financially, but also on their health and wellbeing,” said the mayor of Dandenong, Youhorn Chea.

“Today we talked about ways we could work better in an advocacy role as well as collaborative approaches to material aid and resources at a municipal and regional level.”

Chea said the cuts would mean Victorian communities would end up having to support their residents.



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